Golden Oldie and First Born Take Off to Serbia.
And so on Tuesday 14 May Grisha ( aka Ginski) and I flew Turkish airlines via Istanbul to Belgrade . And that is a whole different episode!
It took a while to figure out the cheapest and easiest way to get to Belgrade from Naples. Not an easy task. Taking the train to Rome and then an Alitalia flight to Belgrade was going to be costly because not only is Alitalia an expensive airline but there was no connection on the same day so we would have had to stay in Rome overnight – more expense. Normally I would say ‘Oh well let’s spend a couple of days in Rome’ but I didn’t want that extra expense. Anyway, when I go back to Rome I want more than a couple of days. So it turned out that Turkish airlines was the way to go but that meant spending 2 extra days in Naples. Yes I know that sounds strange but 2 nights in Naples in our hostel was cheaper and easier than one night in Rome and a whole lot less frustration and running around, in case you haven’t noticed I’m into travelling with the least amount of hassle.
This part of my story is going to prove a little difficult for 2 reasons,
1: I was in Serbia on three separate occasions this year so there is a lot of information and 2, it’s part of my research on Mum and Dad, so it’s all a little emotional, but I’ll try to clean up the personal emotional aspect while leaving enough in to make it all relevant. Again, I’m keeping the daily journal format otherwise I’ll never get this written, and I’ll probably end up doing each week separately although I’m toying with the possibility of rolling it all together, we’ll see what happens.
14 May 2013
So here we are in Belgrade, via Istanbul airport. Arrived about 7.30pm, checked into the Hedonist Hostel (the guys there seem really helpful and fun) had dinner in the Tri Shashira (that means 3 Hats) restaurant recommended by the guys at the Hedonist. It is in Skadarlija, the cobbled street in the old quarter that was once the haunt of poets, writers and artists, now full of tourists, and I’m already liking this place. A street filled with restaurants and music. The sort of thing I expected to find in Italy and Croatia but didn’t. The meal we had was enormous ! We went a little overboard, we were hungry but didn’t realise how big the meals are. Grisha had chevapcici and chips, we had a Shopska salad each and I had a Karadjorge (rolled veal stuffed with ham, butter garlic, crumbed and deep fried)– yum! If we come here again we will order one meal and share! So looking forward to exploring the rest of the city and especially the 2 rivers Sava and Danube, Mum and Dad spoke of their walks along the rivers with great fondness.
Ok, so now to figure out how to actually have a decent sleep in a top bunk! I hate top bunks! This could be interesting.
Tip: if staying in hostels and booking through one of the online agencies and sleeping in a dorm, always contact the hostel separately and ask for a lower bunk (unless of course you are a much more agile oldie than I am). I’ve never had a problem doing this since but this was the first dorm for me and I didn’t think of that bit of information.
15 May 2013
The guys at the hostel are awesome, Turkish (Serbian) coffee made for me! Yay! Thanks guys.
Beograd! I’m liking you more and more. Today we did the overview walk just to see where things are, where Grisha might want to run (yes I have a crazy son who runs) and places I might want to go back to for a better look. This is such a chilled out city. When we first walked into the massive pedestrian plaza (Knez Mihailova) we stopped, looked at each other and pretty much both said something like ‘ This feels so chilled out!’. There are heaps of restaurants and the shopping area with every shop you can think of. I remembered my mother saying that when she was young and living in Belgrade the city was considered the Paris of Yugoslavia. Still no Turkish coffee in any cafe but we did find a place called something like Kings of Turkey with heaps of baklava and other awesome sweets so might try them one day. Also discovered that there is a place called the Russian House so going to check that out tomorrow for some of that history I’m searching for. We have already extended by one night, I think we’ll need more time, loving it.
So, briefly we discovered the wonderful pedestrian plaza, walked all the way up to the fort (Kalemagdan), saw the convergence of the Sava and Danube rivers that my parents talked about often in their reminiscences, found a public fountain in the pedestrian plaza. Now, I have to stop for a minute and rave about that. What a great idea! This beautiful fountain with multiple outlets of perfectly clear drinking water, there for all to use. The locals, the tourists and definitely the homeless. All free, and under each outlet is a basin that holds water as well so those who may want to splash water or wash something could do so. Marvelous public service, so basically I only had to buy one bottle of water and then refilled it at the fountain every time we passed..
Yay! Great excitement, moved to a lower bunk tonight, loving that, got a curtain to hide behind too! Did I happen to mention that the guys at the Hedonist are awesome?
Thursday 16 May
More exploring on foot, went to find the Russian House to find out if they have any information on the Russian community during the time my parents were there only to find out that the library was closed. The woman at reception knew nothing about anything, but did give us the phone number of a lady she thought might be able to help (that ended up being an interesting conversation, more later). There is a little souvenir shop in the building and so as not to have wasted a trip I bought some imported Russian chocolate.
17 May 2013
Today we started our search for Mum’s history in earnest. We hopped into the little green machine that we hired and drove off to Fruska Gora, 95 kilometres from Belgrade in the direction of Hungary.
Novo Hopovo monastery in Fruska Gora Serbia is where mum went to school from age 5-10. It wasn’t too hard to find, the highways in Serbia are really good and well sign posted.
The area is stunningly beautiful with green rolling hills, vineyards and forests. We first saw Novo Hopovo, which I was pretty sure was Mum’s school but there were signs to Staro Hopovo 2 kilometres further on so we decided to check that out just in case. I am so glad we did, the road wound through forests to this pretty little church and bell tower.
I quote from another traveller’s description – Staro Hopovo Monastery (staro meaning “old”) is a short 2 km drive away from Novo Hopovo. It was built between 1496 and 1520. The original church, also dedicated to St. Nicholas, was ruined by an earthquake in 1751 and a new one of cut stone and brick with a ten-sided dome was built. It was dedicated to St. Panteleimon. Robert C Trip Advisor
Grisha and I had a wander around and took some photos, it would have been nice to have time to walk in the woods but we needed to go to Mum’s school as obviously this one was not it.
So back up the two kilometres to the other building, a large yellow edifice. We wandered in and came across a priest (or monk, not sure which) walking along the cloister. Language wasn’t easy but we got enough to figure out that he knew nothing about the Russian era of this monastery but was happy for us to have a look in the church.
Again I quote from Robert C – Novo Hopovo (novo meaning “new”) is a Serbian Orthodox Monastery located in Fruska Gora National Park south of Novi Sad in Vojvodina. The yellow monastery buildings with red roofs are accented by a bell tower that was completed in 1760. The yellow monastery buildings surround the real gem, the beautiful old St. Nicholas church, which was built in 1576 . The frescoes around the altar and nave were frescoed in 1608 and the narthex in 1654. The wood iconostasis was built in 1776. The monastery was founded between 1496 and 1502 on the site of a previous church built in the 10th century. The church and iconstasis were heavily damaged in World War II and the treasury and its objects looted. Reconstruction took some 30 years. Robert C Trip Advisor
Between 1920 and 1943 the nuns of the monasteries were almost all from Russia, as they had to flee during the October Revolution (just like my father).
In front of the entrance of the monastery is the tomb of Mother Jekaterina who was the head of the monastery of Hopovo. She was Russian and grew up near the House of the Romanov family. http://sajkaca.blogspot.com/2010/02/monatsery-novo-hopovo-in-fruska-gora.html
Next thing we noticed was that the monks make their own rakijah for sale, with their own label, nice!. In retrospect we probably should have bought one.
The beautiful little church is in the central courtyard, surrounded on all sides by the monastery. It is ancient, the frescoes partially destroyed but still absolutely amazing. I stood there for a long time in awe of the age, the beautiful decorations and the thought that my mother stood in this church as a little girl and now I was standing in the same church. She talked of this monastery so often during my life I could almost feel her presence. I wondered where she may have stood. I’m sure there would have been some order to where the
classes stood. I also wondered whether the icon of Mary where the girls used to hide all their personal requests to her was still there.
My dear son as always took many photos (love having a professional camera man in the family) this was an important trip for both of us bringing to life my Mother’s stories. I would have loved to have attended a service there, perhaps I’ll go again one day. After much time soaking up the energy and the history, we finally left, walked around the church and along part of the cloister where Mum would have walked to and from the school to the church.
The church stands within the square surrounded on all four sides by the monastery building, a beautiful space. The cloisters serene and beautiful, I could just see all the girls in their Sunday uniforms filing from the monastery to the church along these cloisters. Once we’d had our fill of the church we retrieved Mum’s ashes from the car and found a lovely copse of ten trees and left a little bit of mum at the foot of one of those trees, I hope it grows even more beautiful and strong, Mum loved all living things and particularly loved the forest around this monastery. And so it was time to drive back, 95 kilometres and a life time away from Mum’s childhood.
17 May 2013
Totally away from the topic of Mum and my research……..
Yay!!!! Eurovison on Serbian TV – this’ll be good. Basically I’ve got it all to myself, everyone else has vanished. Reckon that Eurovison has cleared the hostel! However I watch it every year even though Australia can’t be involved, it’s so much fun. I think since the days of Abba some people in Australia have held a soft spot for Eurovision. Now it pretty much has a cult following with Eurovision parties and drinking games and SBS has done an awesome job of televising the event and now creating a live chat line – just plain good fun! So here I was in Serbia watching it on my own!
18 May 2013
Trip to Bela Crkva to track down mum’s third and last school. Well was that a surprise! Yes I know, I have skipped from school #1 to school #3, that is because school #2 is in Slovenia and we had yet to get there.
Now back to that phone call I mentioned earlier. I guess it’s a cultural thing, but I rang the number given to me by The Russian House, a woman answered, I introduced myself by my first name and told her how I got her number and why I was calling. The first thing I got was:
‘And who are you?’
I repeated my name,
‘Yes, but that is just your first name! What is your surname and your patronymic? You haven’t given me those!’
At which point I’m thinking ‘Gosh, have I rung the Secret Service or something?’ Anyway, finally after giving her my full Russian name (why she needed it I have no idea, she certainly didn’t use it and wouldn’t have known who I was anyway) she admitted to knowing nothing about the schools but gave me the name and an approximate address of a gentleman in Bela Crkva the town where Mum went to her final school who apparently had a ‘museum’ based on the Crimean Cadet Corps in Bela Crkva with which mum’s school had connections, so I was hoping we would have some luck there.
The trip there was quite fun, apart from the fact that Ginski is fun to travel with, laid back, just as photo mad as I am (just professional with much better results) fun conversationalist and a good driver, travelling distances in other countries is always fascinating. We came across, trucks, tractors hauling various loads, horses and carts, hay wagons all a challenge on the narrow roads. No wild life but the dogs and cats play chicken with the traffic quite a bit, so you need to be alert. Road kill unfortunately tends to be cats.
There was great excitement when I finally saw a whole field of red poppies, thank you Universe. There had been lots along the side of the road but not a full field, so I happened to mention to Ginski that I hoped there would be a whole field of them and then there it was! The car came to a screaming halt, son jumped out of the car as I handed him the camera and off he went doing what he does best. Take a look at the result!
We made it to Bela Crkva and found the Russian church, unfortunately locked. So on we went to find the address of the guy. When we first arrived I got a little concerned because I thought it would be a wild goose chase after the trip. But we struck gold!
The town initially seemed run down (like a lot of towns in Serbia I’ve noticed), once it was a large centre but seems a lot of people have left or died and many buildings are abandoned and fallen into disrepair. So my hopes were fading. I also wasn’t sure whether the address that the strange Russian woman in Belgrade gave me was real, at the very least she wasn’t sure of the street number. So we drove down Partizanskaja street, found the number and all the doors onto the street looked locked. The street looked deserted. It’s a bit like that here, there are no front yards, all the houses are right on the footpath and they have large double doors that lead into courtyards, all gates and doors appeared to be locked.
I noticed that a couple of doors down there was something that looked like a shop so I thought I’d go in and ask, after all the Belgrade woman said that everyone knew this guy. As I got closer I heard voices inside, entered, to find that it was a restaurant. I asked the waiter who approached us if he knew a Mr Kastelyanov – Strike me pink! But he immediately turned to a gentleman at a table of people having lunch and said ‘ I think this is for you’. Yes it was the man we were looking for! You could have knocked me down with a feather. He was as amazed as we were. After a brief explanation of what, who and why we were, apologising for interrupting his lunch and offering to come back at another time, it was agreed that we would stay in the restaurant, have a cup of coffee and wait till his lunch was over. It was in fact a 12 month memorial lunch for one of their friends (the Orthodox people have memorial services followed by lunch 40 days after a death then a year after the death. Some people carry on and have annual memorials)
So I had my first proper Serbian (Turkish) coffee in this restaurant along with some really nice traditional cake. I’ve been looking for the ‘Turkish’ coffee ever since we arrived in Croatia and have been told no-one serves it in cafes, particularly in the cities. What the waiter in Bela Crkva told me is that they no longer call it ‘Turkish’ coffee it’s Serbian coffee in Serbia, so I guess it’s Croatian coffee in Croatia. The 2 slices of cake that came with it must have been from the memorial lunch – awesomely yummy rich cakes, again took me back to my youth and mums cooking.
Mr Kastelyanov proved to be a delight and a mine of information. He took us back to his house where we met his wife as well. They both speak perfect Russian although born in Serbia, so communication was easy. The ‘museum’ (he prefers to call it a memorabilia room) was chock-a-block full of photos, items, paintings, books etc related to the Crimean Cadet Corps which had escaped the Russian revolutions and based themselves in Bela Crkva. The Kingdom of Serbs Croats and Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) (particularly individuals starting with the king and his family and other royal relatives) was very generous to the White Russian migrants who escaped and settled in the area. They donated buildings, monasteries and castles to the Russian schools which had nowhere to set up their educational system.
Two of those schools were the Crimean Cadet Corps and the Marinski Donskoi Womens Institute. They were housed in massive buildings in Bela Crkva and the two schools shared important occasions like religious festivals, balls, choir performances. At other times communication between the boys and the girls was strictly forbidden (needless to say they managed to get written messages to each other in secret).
Mr and Mrs Kastelyanov had associations with the cadet corps through their families, particularly Mrs Kastelyanov whose grandfather was an artist and documented their escape from Russia in paintings. Her father was a cadet at the school. As a result of all their memorabilia and the connection between the two schools they also had quite a bit of information about mum’s school., even a photo from 1938 of a joint gathering, it is quite possible that mum may be in that photo – impossible to know though because she had no photos of herself as a young girl, so I have no idea what she looked like. Here is one of the sad things about wars and migration – Mum and Dad had no evidence of their youth, no photos, no papers, nothing. Sadly I didn’t get to do this trip until after mum passed away, so I can’t show her the photos to find out if she is there. War messes up lives for many generations! I wish human beings could resolve their differences without violence.
After telling me everything he could Mr Kastyelanov took us to see the building where mums school had been. It was massive. Unfortunately totally unused for 5 years and and parts of it unused for much longer than that, so it has fallen into dis-repair.
As we walked around we found that someone had created a large hole in the fence that was supposed to protect the back of the building, so in I went. After his first shock that I was going through the hole in the fence our guide decided to join me. After a little while he loosened up and began enjoying breaking into the back of the place. The dear man was like a kid again eyes sparkling at doing something ‘naughty’ I love when people just go with the flow and decide to enjoy themselves.
As a result of clambering through the fence I managed to walk in the courtyard where Mum would have walked and played. There is the remnant of a basket ball court, I don’t know if it was there when she was there or whether it was created later, whatever, this area was her playground. I suspect that they would possibly have had a tennis court there as she used to tell me how she loved to play tennis
We had a good wander around, he showed us where there had been a restaurant for a few years and we even had a bit of a look inside, but it is all falling apart and way too dangerous to go too far in, how I would have loved to have seen the place the way it was when Mum was there. I always find it sad when beautiful old buildings fall into dis-repair.
After the school he took us to the Cadet corps school which you can’t enter because it is still used by the Serbian Army. Best we could do is stand at the boom gate and look at bits of buildings through trees while he spoke with the guard, no photos either!
That done we went off to the cemetery where many of the Russian migrants are buried, some are people of the royal court.
The cemetery is also in a state of disrepair, but now cadets from Russia (they have finally realised there is important history here) go there annually for tours and do some volunteer work in the cemetery so piece by piece it is getting improved.
Back at the house he excitedly told his wife all about our naughty entering into the back yard of the old school and even managing to get inside the building.
Oh what a day! (although probably even more questions have arisen) Thank you to Vladimir and Valentina Kastelyanov for spending hours with us explaining all they could.
Sitting at the kitchen table back at the hostel, after our exciting day, playing around on FB, and around me I hear German, Spanish, English in various accents and a touch of Serbian now and again, some of the people speaking those languages are from the relevant countries, others are not, it’s just awesome! Last night we had Russian as well. Loving this multicultural melding. The best part is that all these people are young, perhaps there is hope for our world through all these great people sharing lives, languages and traditions.
19 May 2013
Drove out to Novi Sad and Kikinda. Started out late, stopped in a little place and got Serbian coffee. Didn’t like that town much, pretty typical rough edged Serbian men in singlets sitting around smoking and drinking – the Serb version of Bogan – got to Novi Sad, larger than I expected and it would have been nice to explore properly but we discovered that Kikinda (our final destination) was another 80kms away. So we couldn’t stick around in Novi Sad.
80 kms of country road, the road itself wasn’t too bad but a much slower trip of course with only one lane each way and dealing with horses, tractors and slow bomby cars. One town on the way was rather interesting only in the fact that it mainly consisted of this one road and stretched for several kms – wouldn’t want to ‘go for a stroll in the main street’!
Somewhere along the way I noticed first a fellow shepherding a flock of sheep along the road and then a couple of young lads minding another flock in a field, my mind immediately went to the stories I’d heard Dad tell of his days minding his bosses cattle. For some people nothing has changed I guess. There are still very few fences here so shepherds and cowherds are still needed and this is where the children are used..
The other thing is that they have many signs warning of deer on the roads, didn’t see one! I guess they must come out at night, but there also wasn’t any road kill either (other than cats) maybe if a deer gets hit it gets eaten? That’s my theory because unlike our Australian roads that are strewn with various dead wild life I saw nothing!
Kikinda itself looked interesting but their civic maps and heritage signs were a bit lacking in information. Also it was Sunday so the Info centre wasn’t open – even if we could have found it! No-one had ever heard of a Russian church let alone a school and we couldn’t get hold of a city map either, oh well I suppose I wasn’t meant to find my Auntie’s school in Kikinda. The day was getting on and we had a long way to drive back to Belgrade so decided to give up on the school search and thought we’d find the ‘Kikinda Mammoth’ as we’d seen signs for that, Hmmmmm all the signs ran out as we got to the centre so we had no idea how far we had to walk to find the thing, or even in which direction so gave up on that too. Final decision was to have a look at the horse driven mill that we had actually seen on the way in, so off we went, found the mill, not sure if it is still used but it still smells of horse so wouldn’t be surprised if it is still used even if only as a tourist attraction, but it was Sunday so no way of finding anything out.
It would have been great to see it in action, massive place, but we took a few photos and headed back. We did notice that we must have been reasonably close to Hungary as the place names were not only in Cyrillic and Latin letters but also in Hungarian, mind you this was all part of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. We also noticed that from Novi Sad on to Kikinda there were a lot more Catholic churches so I guess that is a reflection of the past as well.
The other thing we noticed in our drives over the past few days is just how flat Serbia is, apart from Fruska Gora we saw no hills except for the Romanian hills from Bela Crkva. The mountainous area is where Serbia becomes Monte Negro (Crna Gora) I’m told it is just stunning, but unfortunately I’m not going to get there this time.
We were going to have dinner on the way back at Zenum, the old town on the banks of the Danube but it was getting late and we figured that perhaps just going back to the hostel and going to the Bohemian Quarter would be a better idea.
20 May 2013
So I knew I would live to regret yesterday’s decision to have a Serbian coffee at 2.30 pm followed by an excessively strong (even in my terms) cappucino at 4-ish! Sleep eluded me till about 4 am, looks like we’ll just have to go get one of those chimney cakes if I’m to survive on 4 hours sleep!
Returned the car, it was a lovely ride, took us very smoothly through the countryside, bye bye green machine.
Wanted to see the residence of Princess Ljubica but it was closed, maybe tomorrow. Did get chimney cake though! The franchise comes from Hungary and I was told by another backpacker at the Hedonist hostel that they are in Prague as well, such a yummy creation!
Lunch, Grisha decided to get the Goulash y Lepine (goulash in a large bread roll , they dig out the middle of the roll and fill with a goulash). Unfortunately not to Grisha’s liking as the goulash was made of kidney’s (I liked the bits that I stole as he didn’t want them).
Dinner, Grisha went and bought all the vegies he needs and cooked up a storm with his vegie dish and this time included the local cabanosi – proper flavours, yum! That dish of his is a life saver for backpacker travel.
21 May 2013
guess I’d better get out of this bunk cave and get the day started, last day in Belgrade, time to move on.
Chill out day – 2pm and Grisha is still asleep! He woke up at 4pm. We didn’t do much other than go get some dinner at the Sesir Moj, a Karadjorge, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the first one at the Tri Sesira. Also there was this annoying woman dressed in period costume constantly talking to a table of young ladies and telling them that she was an actress and then sang to them (awful) then continued talking. We ate and got out of there as it was impossible to talk with her constant chatter.
Hello all! Good morning! Good evening. Awake now! 2nd Serbian coffee for the day – made this one myself, time I got back into practice I guess and a yummy cake thingy that the hostel guys just gave me – yuuuuum! Spoilt as the Mama? Just a bit.
22 May 2013
It’s sad but in 51/2 hours we’ll be on the train out of this lovely city of Belgrade and on our way to Ljubljana via Zagreb – hope it lives up to all the descriptions I’ve heard. Farewell Belgrade, I leave not having managed to do, see, eat or drink everything you have on offer, but you never know, I may come back one day and get to finish all of this.
One of the most challenging feats of this trip? Other than climbing up to a top bunk? Sitting on a lower bunk doubled over trying to drink beer out of a rather large tinny of Jelen!
Oh wow! Running Down a Dream has just come on the local radio station that is on in the hostel – how appropriate!
And so Episode One of Belgrade ends. I did come back on my own, unexpectedly, however that is another story. We will meet again in the next episode when my Ginski and I continue our research in Slovenia, see you all in Ljubljana.
3 thoughts on “Golden Oldie and First Born Take Off to Serbia.”
Hi, thank you so much for this and the rest of your blog – it’s such an interesting read!
I have come across your page whilst researching my late great-grandfather and it seems there are striking similarities between his life and that of your mother. He was born in Zlatar, former Yugoslavia (now Croatia) in 1922, but moved to Belgrade at the age of 2. Similar to your mother, he also lived at the Hopovo Monastery from the age of 3 to about 6 or 7 where he was educated by the nuns. We know he then attended boarding school in Bela Crkva until he was 11. I would be extremely keen to hear about any other bits of information you might have picked up on your travels about any of these places, as we know very little about his own family (he left home aged 18 to join the WWII efforts, eventually arriving in Britain where he then stayed and never saw any of them again). Perhaps tracing as much as I can about his early life might shed some light on what happened to his family.
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Hi Jess, thank you so much for getting touch and your feedback. It is so hard searching for the history of our forebears, so much has been lost. I would love to be in touch and share whatever information I may have. It’s not a lot, quite a struggle finding things but together we may track down even more, who knows. I assume your great-grandfather was of Russian background?Where are you located? I’m in Australia. If you like you can email me direct rather than going through WordPress could be easier to communicate. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
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Thank you so much for your reply! I’ve dropped you an email just now 🙂